Roy Tuscany had spent most of his life on the slopes, training in the hopes of one day competing in the Olympics.
The only Vermonter in his family to develop a love for skiing, he knew it would become his destiny. He focused his entire life around the sport and moved west to Lake Tahoe, where he could teach kids and train.
But one day, his ambition got the best of him — or so it seemed. He ignored what he taught his students and hit a jump on new skis while the snow was harder and the wind was stronger.
High Fives founder Roy Tuscany in Vermont. Photo by Brooks Curran.
The allure was too strong to consider any of the above, drowned out by the call of the sensation of the flight, the distance, and the perfect jump.
Going 130 feet on a 100-foot jump, the impact onto ground instantly paralyzed him from the belly down, and he lost motor skills, sensation, feeling.
When your entire life is about mountain sports, a paralyzing injury isn’t something that keeps you off the slopes — no matter how traumatizing the experience. Swearing off skiing just wasn’t an option. "I knew I didn't want to sulk, and I knew the next move would have to change for me to stay on this path," he says.
Roy Tuscany. Photo by Generikal Design.
Tuscany was surrounded by a network of not just medical professionals, but personal friends, family, and community members who supported his recovery on all levels every step of the way.
He underwent multiple surgeries, including the insertion of two rods, eight screws, and two plates placed in his back to stabilize and support his spine, followed by Achilles-tendon-lengthening surgery on each ankle that would allow his feet to be flat.
Roy Tuscany in recovery. Photo via High Fives Foundation.
But just learning to ski again wasn’t enough. He wanted to do more.
His traumatic injury became the catalyst that caused him to offer a hand to other athletes who had experienced the same.
Determined to pay forward all the support he had received, he created a foundation to raise injury prevention awareness for athletes who have experienced life-altering injuries. They also provide rehabilitation services and financial support for medical treatment.
High Fives athlete at Adaptive Waterski Camp. Photo by High Fives Foundation via GoPro.
In addition to helping with rehabilitation, the foundation gives athletes a bit more knowledge through its educational program to help prevent another accident
"For a long time, parents told us we supported daredevils who get hurt, so we created this presentation to help them make better choices," Tuscany says.
A High Fives athlete at the foundation's rehab facility. Photo by Elevated Image Photography.
Known as the BASICS program (an acronym for Be Aware Safe In Critical Situations), the curriculum highlights some of the most frequent but commonly disregarded key safety measures athletes make, like listening to your intuition instead of your ego and increasing your speed without being aware of the consequences.
It's a presentation they travel the country to deliver in person, and it can also be viewed online, with over 225,000 views to date.
Even the name Tuscany chose — the High Fives Foundation — reflects the positivity he received.
One day, after a specific surgery, he held up his hand for his doctor, who had just told him it went well, to slap it.
High Fives members. Photo by Generikal Design.
"After that, it was always high-fives all around because it’s impossible to give a high-five and not feel an exchange of positivity," Tuscany says.
The High Fives Foundation officially got off the ground in 2009.
To date, it has helped 159 athletes from 31 states get rehabilitated and back out there.
The first athlete the foundation helped had been hurt in a skiing accident. The foundation raised $25,000 in its first year — largely through word of mouth — enabling them to offer that skier personal training, a gym membership, ski lessons, and equipment to help get him ready to hit the slopes again.
"We started with [that] one program, an empowerment fund, and were able to grow," Tuscany says, "so that when insurance says 'no,' we say 'yes,' when they suffer life-altering injuries, even if it’s from a car accident."
Military to the Mountain participants on the slopes. Photo by Generikal Design.
At the adaptive camps, athletes who live with permanently altered abilities can take part in the sports they love.
This includes water skiing, surfing, and mountain climbing.
High Fives has also started a program for veterans who have been wounded in the line of duty.
They are given nine weeks of group training for skiing and snowboarding and a full week to hit the slopes. "Individuals volunteer once a week because they’ve built relationships and friendships with members of the staff," Tuscany says. "These guys have the biggest hearts in the world."
Athlete Jeff Andrews and Roy Tuscany. Photo by ClarkBourne Creative.
One snowboarder particularly grateful for the support is Jeff Andrews, who became paralyzed from the middle of his sternum downward.
The High Fives Foundation was there for him during his entire recovery. The organization also sent him on a trip to Hawaii, where he was able to learn to surf. And this experience was transformative for him — giving him a new goal to strive for: become the best surfer he could be.
And three weeks ago, Jeff decided he wanted to go to the U.S. World Surfing Championships.
He won first place in the U.S. Adaptive Division, proving that it’s not just ice or snow that can be healing.
Photo by ClarkBourne Creative.
Folks with disabilities, with little to no function, can move a little in ocean water, according to High Fives's founder.
"The motion is magnified by, like, 100," Tuscany says. "These little twists out of the water are moving. It’s such a positive rush. All of a sudden, your foot and legs are moving."
In addition to the unique "human-care" component that sets it apart from some similar organizations out there, the High Five Foundations Empowerment Grant paves the way for each individual to find their own path back to action.
"We bring everyone into our Ohana, a super powerful term in the Hawaiian culture to define family," Tuscany says. "When you care about the human, the results are endless in their pursuit."
Update 8/15/2017: The share image was changed.